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Sacrifice or Selfish Liberation?

by Christa

A sacrifice is meant to liberate someone or something. In the film Manderlay, Grace places herself as the sacrifice to liberate the slaves of Manderlay. Her intentions seem like a righteous sacrifice, but throughout the film we see that her sacrifice is selfish. This clip reflects the core theme of the film. In this scene, Grace and her father talking, and von Trier places them in a dark, dimly lit car, side by side. Because it is dark and they are in a confined space, the mis’en-scene gives the feel of a confessional; we get to understand Grace’s deep dark secrets. Also, with the cultural knowledge of the confessional, Grace’s father acts as a voice that directs the truth about Grace. Even though he is a gangster, his comments provide insight into Grace’s intentions and naivety. In this car discussion, we see that Grace wanted the newly liberated slaves to notice that they were free; she expected them to come out and thank her. This shows her true intentions. She does not want the slaves to just have freedom, but she wants the slaves to have freedom dictated by what she thinks is appropriate. Her naivety comes in through the story of Tweety; we understand that Grace acts without knowing all the details or the possible outcomes. She just sacrifices herself, but she does not know what she is getting into.

Grace is just anther woman in von Trier’s long line of female sacrifices. The women in von Trier’s films are placed in situations where they have to sacrifice something. Through acting and dialogue, the audience begins to see that the woman’s sacrifice is not beneficial to others but is selfish. Viewers watch the women work to manipulate situations that don’t necessarily help anyone but themselves. Also, von Trier uses the trope of the confessional not only in this film, but also in Dogville and Dancer in the Dark. The confessional settings appears to direct the viewer towards the selfish sacrifices these women make. 

I think von Trier places women as selfish sacrifices to comment on the role of women in society. His films give off the opinion, that women are not sacrificing for the sake of the family or others, but instead it is for their own glory or liberation. In American culture, the woman is seen as sacrificing a lot for the family or due to societal pressures. I think the comment von Trier is making is that women don’t make these sacrifices for the family; it is for their own glory. Grace depicts this because she is not sacrificing herself for the sake of her father and the people of Manderlay; she is sacrificing her herself for her own glory. She wants to be noted as the great liberator of truth. Thus, women are working to liberate themselves under the guise of sacrificing something to help others. 

Grace's selfishness

by Meredith Burns

Grace’s sentiments are portrayed as insincere and selfish in this clip. The insincerity is revealed when her father points out that Grace is waiting for the slaves to come out to the car to thank her for their release. In wanting to be thanked, Grace’s makes it clear that her true motives behind the sacrifices she makes in the name of helping the slaves is to validate her own goodness. With her self-deprecating phrases and arguments for the freedom of the slaves, she appears humble and generous. Yet she seems uncomfortable around her father who questions the sincerity of her actions. This is visualized by Grace’s refusal to look her father in the eye when she is speaking throughout the clip. Grace avoids her father’s eyes as she makes assertions about slavery, the slaves of Manderlay, and what they should do next which shows the weakness of her words. Her inability to confidently argue with her father, who is the voice of pragmatism, shows that she is aware her actions are misguided and will not stand up to scrutiny. Rather than acknowledge and accept her own selfishness by looking at her father, Grace looks out the window to the carriage, longing to be somewhere she believes she will be praised for her humility, generosity, and overall goodness. The viewer, however, cannot see what Grace is looking at out of the window. This further indicates that the entire scene is about Grace and not the slave specifically, because the slaves are an interchangeable recipients her of selfish sacrifice. Grace’s denial of her own selfishness and search for validation of goodness is selfish in itself because it prohibits her from listening to the views and needs of others. The insincerity and ignorance combine to discredit the selflessness of Grace’s sacrifice and prove to truly be selfish attempts at validation.

This scene also hints at Von Trier’s attitude toward women overall and mothers in particular. Grace’s father says that Grace is acting as “out of it” as her mother. This statement implies the ignorance, insincerity, and selfish sacrifices are universal traits of women, especially mothers. Lars von Trier destroys the popular notion that mothers as the picture of selflessness as they care for their family. Instead, he offers a portrait of mothers that selfishly sacrifice under the guise of humility and generosity, just like Grace.

Selfish Sacrifice in Lars von Trier's Films

by Michelle Robinson

This clip by will be used to explore the recurrent theme of sacrifice and sacrificial actions in director Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, and Manderlay, specifically in relation to von Trier’s representations of women. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2012)

Grace wants to help the people

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In this scene from director Lars von Trier's Manderlay, Grance (Bryce Dallas Howard) argues with her gangster father (Willem Dafoe) about the fate and destiny of the "freed" "slaves" of the Manderlay plantation.

from Manderlay (2005)
Creator: Lars von Trier
Distributor: IFC Films
Posted by Michelle Robinson